With spring here in full force and summer right around the corner, most cyclists are switching gears from cold weather preparation to warm weather preparation. While warm weather certainly has its own challenges, one of the biggest (aside from remaining well hydrated) is keeping cool to prevent heat-related illness. Keeping cool can often mean the difference between ground breaking success and crushing failure on rides, races and gran fondos.
If you're finding yourself wilting in the sun, check out my top tips for keeping cool in the heat after the break:
Part of keeping yourself cool involves regulating your body temperature via your clothing. As the temperature increases, pull out the thin, breathable jerseys that don't hold sweat like a wet towel and allow for maximal airflow through the fabric. Consider bibs made of a breathable material, especially ones that utilize mesh uppers and straps which allow for maximum airflow. This doesn't always mean thinner material. Remember, we don't want to see through your bibs. Ditch the cotton cycling cap and utilize a helmet with a lot of vents that allows for maximal airflow, such as the Lazer Z1. You may even consider going without gloves and with ultra thin socks if it's a scorcher (just remember to use sunscreen on those exposed parts!)
Base layers are a hit or miss proposition in the heat, and many times it comes down to personal preference. Some base layers do a great job of speeding evaporative cooling, but others just feel like a wet sheet stuck to your chest. I'd recommend experimenting to find your happy medium with or without a base layer. Personally, I'm a big fan of Vie13's mesh base layer or the craft mesh base layer.
Color also plays a big part in how cool you remain in the heat. Stow the dark color fabrics and switch to light colors. Beware though: white jerseys (and shorts in particular) can show everything when they are dampened by sweat and water. An easy compromise is often a lighter weight pair of (black) bibs and a light/white jersey since the upper body will get most of the sun anyway.
Keeping Cool From the Outside
Even though you've dressed as lightly as you possibly can, often you will still find yourself sweating heavily. In those cases, it may be beneficial to consider alternative methods of keeping cool, most of which involve cooling the outside of the body. Remember Floyd Landis in the ill-fated stage to Morzine? There was a claim back in '06 that he took 70 bottles from the team car to keep cool by drinking and (mostly) dumping them over his head. This applies to everyone out on the road (although most of us don't have team cars to follow us.) A quick squirt from a water bottle into the helmet vents provides a refreshing blast of cool that trickles down through the helmet and onto the jersey.
Dumping water on yourself provides cooling in two ways: conductive cooling (cold water in contact with warm skin) and evaporative cooling (as it evaporates it takes heat with it.) This is more effective when the bottle has ice in it, obviously. Just beware that you choose your WATER bottle, not your energy drink bottle, otherwise, you'll be the star attraction for every yellow jacket in the tri county area. Since you need more fluids in hot weather, you can kill two birds with one stone: carry an extra water bottle and keep yourself cool at the same time. All you have to do is carry a spare water bottle.
Fill that third water bottle half full of water and put it into the freezer overnight. The morning of your ride, top it up with cold water and stick it in your jersey pocket or down the back of your jersey like a pro domestique. As you ride, the ice will thaw, the bottle will sweat off (cool) condensation and it will help to keep you cool.
Along the same lines, if you're in a charity ride or any other circumstance in which you have access to ice cubes, don't be bashful about keeping cool by putting them down the back of your jersey to let them melt. Keep sticking them in your bottles as well, and you'll have plenty of cool liquid throughout the event.
One of the best methods of cooling your body during hot weather is to cool it from the inside. Since conductive cooling applies on the inside as well as the outside, this method is doubly useful since you need to take in fluids anyway. Consider freezing half full bottles of water overnight, then top them up in the morning with cold water to have ice cold liquid during your ride. Energy drink can be a little more problematic, but there are options. Powders dissolve best in warm water, so mix a regular scoop of energy drink mix with about 20% of a bottle's worth of warm water to make an energy drink concentrate. Make sure the powder is dissolved, then stick it in the fridge overnight. In the morning, fill the bottle with ice and top up with cold water to have ice cold energy drink for your ride. I've personally found that Scratch Labs mix works well for this kind of application because it dissolves very well, even in cooler water.
If you're using ice cubes, you may notice that it thaws fairly quickly. Combat this by using insulated bottles like the Camelbak Podium Chill and using large ice chunks instead of small cubes. To get big “chunks” of ice, try this: get a small 8 oz can of Coke from the local grocery or convenience store and cut to top off the can (drink the Coke first or pour it out.) Fill it with water and freeze it, and you have a single large, water bottle shaped ice cube that won't melt as quickly as small cubes from the freezer.
Alternatively, you can often use small paper or plastic cups, as long as the diameter is smaller than the mouth of your water bottle. These large chunks will thaw more slowly than small cubes because of the decreased surface area, and your bottles will stay cooler longer. Colder bottles means a cooler rider, which means better performance.
Hopefully, with these simple tips, you'll never find yourself dealing with heat illness. If you have any magical tips of your own, post them in the comments and share with everyone else.